When The Lego Movie came out in 2014, it looked like the pinnacle of heavily branded messes. But thanks to the magic powers of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, it ended up being one of the most engrossing (and high-grossing!) animated comedies in years.
Then The Lego Batman Movie came out in 2017, and we all rechanneled our distaste in its direction. "OK, they got lucky the first time," we thought, "but here's the stinker. A whole movie based on Will Arnett's Batman? Without Lord and Taylor at the helm? Pish posh."
Well, the score is officially Lego franchise 2, us zero. Because while Lego Batman lacks the surprise and utter charm of its predecessor, it's another genuinely well-told, funny frolic for everyone to enjoy. If we're going to be buried under franchises within franchises told via toys, they're at least making us laugh in the process.
The aforementioned Arnett stars as the voice of Batman, the Caped Crusader with the deep, penetrating, self-sung theme song. He's still saving Lego Gotham from a series of villains, with even more ease (and publicity) than we've seen before. But when he tells the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) that the two aren't true archrivals, he sets off a chain of jealousy-driven events that threaten their world's very existence. At the same time, Batman is forced to look inward (as all good Batmen are) to finally figure out why he's so dark, brooding, and unable to love.
Because along the way, Batman runs into some potential pals who won't leave him alone. A miscommunication leads to Robin (Michael Cera) gleefully barging into Wayne Manor as his adopted son, and Commissioner Gordon's retirement means his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) takes over the police force. And, of course, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is always there for support. Lego Batman hits another home run with its main voice cast; Cera is the perfect excitable scamp, and Galifianakis's Joker is a very appropriate sad sack who's fully bought into the whole "destined to do this forever" thing. And of course, Arnett is just the best, even in larger doses.
Many people know the Batman world inside and out, and Lego Batman believes they are its audience. Though it's not explicitly for super fans—kids will still find a lot to laugh at—I'd caution anyone unfamiliar with Bruce Wayne and his universe to steer clear. It doesn't lean entirely on inside jokes and references, but they do play a role in many of its funnier moments. I guess you can't blame a movie called Lego Batman for being too Batman-y,
In addition—and in now-typical Lego Movie fashion—characters from all sorts of universes pop in to cause trouble. When Joker frees the world's greatest villains from a magical prison, Batman suddenly has to do battle with Sauron, King Kong, and the Gremlins. That plus a murderers' row of Batman villains provides a plethora of hilarious comedians with the chance for a bit of quick voice work. Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, Conan O'Brien as Riddler, Jason Mantzoukas as Scarecrow, Eddie Izzard as Lord Voldemort; though nobody stands out like Arnett in the original, there's still a lot of funny.
This probably sounds more insufferable on paper than it is on-screen; I insist that there's a lot to like here. Five screenwriters are credited but "story by" goes only to Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and (one can only assume) a key architect in making this work. Along with director Chris McKay, who served as animation supervisor on the original Lego Movie, they've hung onto the core reason why the first Lego adventure was beloved: not because it was cute and people liked to see assorted characters, but because it used great voice actors to tell a simple but impactful story very well.
It's likely the Lego cinematic universe will overextend itself in the not-too-distant future; every series of stories has a shelf life, especially ones based on toys. But thanks to another clever script and more dynamite work from Arnett and company, the inevitable falter isn't starting here.